Wednesday, December 30, 2015

AFI Top 100, #44: "The Birth of a Nation" (1915)

Movie Stats:
Released 1915 (USA)
American, in English (the film is silent but the scene cards are in English)
Director - D.W. Griffith
Stars - Lillian Gish, Henry B. Walthall, George Siegmann, Mae Marsh

Plot Summary:
A rather slanted look at the Civil War and Reconstruction. Gish co-stars as Elsie Stoneman, a U.S. senator’s daughter; Walthall as Ben Cameron, a Stoneman family friend, Southern colonel, and Elsie’s one-time paramour; Marsh as Ben’s sister, Flora; and Siegmann as Silas Lynch, a biracial Reconstruction politician.

Violence; use of a racial slur.

Bad Stuff:
This is the most ridiculously racist pile of poop I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching in my life. All of the biracial and black characters are either dumb, lazy, evil, or a combination of all three. The KKK members are the good guys in this. Let that sink in for a moment. The KKK is the hero of this movie.

The acting is terrible. I’ve seen silent films that have good acting, so I know it’s not the medium.

At 190 minutes, it’s way, way too long. Many scenes are interminable.

Good Stuff:
I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to see a movie that’s 100 years old. It’s difficult to believe that full length feature films have been around for that long.

A lot of the practical effects were well done. I frequently found myself wondering how many of those poor stuntmen got hurt, since this was made before the days of labor standards.

The Verdict:
This movie offends me on every level imaginable, to the point where I’m seething with so much rage that I can hardly type. It showcases every terrible (and inaccurate) stereotype about blacks imaginable. It’s white supremacist propaganda.

This movie has no business on a modern-day (compiled in 1998 if you’ll recall) list of “best movies ever made.” Even if you ignore all the racism (BTW, any black or biracial character that has a “foreground” role is played by a white person in black face), it’s objectively not a very good film. While the practical effects are impressive, the acting is bad, the editing is lacking (it meanders endlessly), and I have grave doubts as to its historical accuracy, particularly in regards to Reconstruction. Just because it’s one of the first feature length films ever made doesn’t mean it deserves a place in the top 100.

I give it .25 star, but only because I don’t believe in giving no stars. Honestly, it deserves about -1,000,000,000 stars.


Patricia said...

Negative one million starts! Ha! Now I don't feel so bad about not seeing this movie.

I wonder who gets the royalties, when it is shown?

Not that the royalties are the only problem. But still.

My aunt has a really racist children's book from when they were growing up in the '40s. I've been wondering what I'm going to do with it when I inherit it. I suspect there is some place where I can donate it.

balyien said...

I assume it goes to his descendants? A quick glance through his Wikipedia page says that he was married twice, but I didn't see anything about kids. I assume there have to be some sort of family members though.

Honestly, the first half of the film, the Civil War stuff, isn't too bad. It's only when it gets into Reconstruction that it goes completely off the deep end. One of the main female characters throws herself off a cliff after a black man TALKS to her (he says he wants to marry her) and the movie praises her for saving her "virtue." It's some seriously f-ed up stuff.

I would think you could donate the racist children's book to some kind of museum.